A rancher and professional breeder of horses, Garry Gottfriedson is the son of Indigenous parents who were both at the forefront of community activism in the era of George Manuel. "When you're born Indian," he says, "you are born into politics."

After living in the bush for eight years, Gottfriedson attended literary readings at the home of Jeannette Armstrong and at the En'owkin Centre in Penticton. After Armstrong submitted some of his poetry to a writing competition without his knowledge, he was awarded the Gerald Red Elk Creative Writing Scholarship by the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, where he studied under Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman and Marianne Faithful. "I didn't even know who Allen Ginsberg was," he says. "When I got there I was shy. I was this bush Indian. I had hair down to my knees. I didn't speak to anyone outside my culture."

Gottfriedson has since gained his MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa and Masters in Education from Simon Fraser University. Born and raised in Kamloops, he has taught at Cariboo College and served as a councilor and consultant for the Kamloops Indian Band.

Gottfriedson's historical work, One Hundred Years of Contact (1990), was followed by In Honour of Our Grandmothers: Imprints of Cultural Survival (1994), a four-way collaboration that included Cree artist George Littlechild, as well as Glass Tepee (2002), a poetry collection that contains cryptic and and lyrical perspectives based on his Secwepemc heritage. Owl dance at Dukes / when the powwow season ends / wrapped in wannabe white girl clothes / labatts & between the sheets / they go all out / all the way / to the bee sting / arms slide around the shoulder/ of the smiling drunk / Mary Kay caked faces forget / that home is a mountain of people / sitting in bunch grass / puffing on Red Stone / sending pitiful words / into the air / hoping / for a Round Dance.

In addition, filmmaker Loretta Todd commissioned Gottfriedson to write "Forgotten Soldiers," a poem about Aboriginal war veterans in Canada, that served as the basis for a documentary and was translated into Spanish. "Returning soldiers lost their treaty rights," he says, "because there was a clause in the Indian Act. You were not to take up arms for or against Canada." His first children's book, Painted Pony (2005), was illustrated by William McAusland.

Along with his brother, who raises bucking horses for rodeos, Gottfriedson maintains the family tradition of breeding quarterhorses which he sells to buyers throughout North America. Fluently bilingual, he has developed his own teaching method for the Shuswap language, one that requires physical responses to learning individual words.

There’s rawness and vulnerability in Secwépemc rancher, poet, educator and cultural advisor Garry Gottfriedson’s latest collection, Bent Back Tongue (Caitlin $20). He tackles colonialism, reconciliation and the church but also sexuality (including fraught masculinity), love, land and family. The 68 poems reveal Gottfriedson’s deep and undeniable honesty “where all things pure and simple / thrive in truth,” that lead to “a sparkle, a small simple sparkle / beaming life / defying death.”


Shuswap History: The First 100 Years of Contact (Secwepemc Cultural Education Society, 1990) 0921235208. Co-authored by John Coffey, Ed Goldstrom, Robert Matthew and Patrick Walton.

In Honour of Our Grandmothers: Imprints of Cultural Survival (Theytus Books, 1994) 0919441785. Co-authored by Reisa Smiley Schneider. Illustrated by George Littlechild and Linda Frimer.

Glass Tepee (Thistledown, 2002). $12.95 1894345479

Painted Pony (Kamloops: Partners in Publishing, 2005) 0973840625. Illustrated by William McAusland.

Whiskey Bullets: Cowboy and Indian Heritage Poems (Ronsdale Press, 2006). $15.95 9781553801016

Gottfriedson, Garry. Skin Like Mine (Ronsdale Press, 2010). $15.95 9781553801016

Chaos Inside Thunderstorms (Ronsdale, 2014) $15.95 9781553803263

Deaf Heaven (Ronsdale, 2016) $15.95 9781553804499

Clinging to Bone (Ronsdale, 2019) $17.95 9781553805632

Tsqelmucwilc: The Kamloops Indian Residential School - Resistance and a Reckoning (Arsenal, 2022) $22.95 9781551529059. Co-authored by Celia Haig-Brown and Randy Fred.

Bent Back Tongue (Caitlin, 2022) $20.00 9781773860961

[BCBW 2023]